It rained on Friday.
As I was driving home from work in it — bumper to bumper traffic like ya do in Kansas City. And feeling sorry for myself — like ya do after another long day to top off another long week — I started having flashbacks to other rainy, early fall nights. I was at a stoplight when I briefly shut my eyes and I saw my mom standing over the kitchen sink, opening the window to let in the musky, cool air of an October night. I saw myself — about 10 years old — zipping up one of those super cool windbreakers, running around in the backyard, and spinning in circles until my cheeks were flushed, my lips were numb and my fingertips were cold…. I was dancing in the crisp air that suddenly welcomes you after a long summer…bites your skin and sharpens your breath. I was back in elementary school when I always got a rush of excitement as September rolled around…….caramel apples, Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas.
I was 16-years-old, walking in the front door after dance team practice after school. It was one of those rare week nights that I wasn’t at the dance studio (and I mean rare….only a handful of days out of the entire year). Chili on the stove, ABC evening news on the television. Mama standing over the sink in the kitchen, opening that window. My brother and my sister. My dad asking, as he did every night at dinner, “So what did you learn in school today?” Laughter and togetherness. A cool breeze. And then the best part, as Mama cleared the table, and my siblings and I fought over whose turn it was to do the dishes (“Consult the chore chart!” — says my mom), it was time to pull out the books.
History, chemistry, English. I was on my own for chemistry, and didn’t need any help for English, but as I pulled out my history homework, there was my dad. Whether I needed his help or whether I didn’t, there he was. Asking me about the chapter we were on. What I liked about my class, what I didn’t. Pulling my textbook closer to him, so he could read along. Finding me sources for my next paper. Fostering my love for learning, for government, for politics. And as the evening grew longer, there was more talking than studying. I learned more about him in those moments than I have ever learned before or since. That’s also when I learned….about myself.
10 p.m. Time for The Daily Show. It was my dad who introduced me to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Who would laugh so hard, he might cry. “Strategery.” His favorite Bushism (maybe yours too). Still gets him. Every time. The light-hearted nature of the two comedians on the screen….shedding light on parts of the American story no one wants to admit. I grab slippers because my feet are cold. I struggle to stay awake. My dad’s laugh is the best sound.
I open my eyes and the light is green. I am 25-years-old, and I am driving home from work. The tears start to fall — like they do when you’re Erin and you feel everything all the time.
Comfort. Those nights at home. Cozy in the yellow house on Judith Street. At the table with family. Warm food in our bellies. Cool air slipping through the windows. Candles burning on the stove. We weren’t huddling together, but we might as well have been. When I think of those moments I wrap my arms around myself. Safe. Happy. Loved. (How lucky am I?)
There are comforts now, I remind myself, as I try to pull myself together on the highway going home. Home is different now. Now it is Steven wrapping his arms around my waist as I stand in the kitchen opening windows. Home now is my dog putting her head in my lap as I doze on the couch. It’s my sister coming over on Sundays to do laundry. It’s the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, and arguing over whose turn it is to do the dishes. These are comforts I’m sure I’ll look back on at another stoplight on another rainy evening someday in the future.
And when I do, the tears might fall again. It’s not even really that I’m sad. It’s not necessarily that I am upset about the traffic or the weather or the stress of the moment. It’s the pang. The jolt of a memory as it reminds you that you’ll never, ever have that moment back.
And you don’t even know it until you are removed from it.
How the sight of your mom opening a window. Or the sound of your dad’s laugh. Will come flooding back to you at a stoplight in the rain.
Reminding you that things will never be as they were.
“The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes. Everything changes.”